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Jun. 2, 2020 | Tuesday
Editorials and Opinions
Arch-i-text: The Regency
Early Regency in NOTL. (Supplied/Brian Marshall)

It’s 1810 and King George III’s escalating battles with mental and physical maladies have combined to force the creation of a regency with his eldest son serving as Prince Regent.

The son was a very different man than his father. Where King George was known for his thrift and focus on mundane common matters rather than pomp and politics, the Prince Regent (future King George IV) lived life large in every way. A self-styled patron of the arts and architecture, his money and sponsorship within the context of the evolving Industrial Revolution would set the stage for the creative architectural kaleidoscope of the 19th century.

One of the earliest architectural results of this socio-political shift has since been termed the Regency style. Unlike the slightly earlier and comparatively short-lived Neo-classical style, the Regency criteria allowed architects much more freedom to express their creativity. The result was a design style which spanned over 50 years and made an indelible mark here in Niagara.

The basis of Regency design can be summed up by describing it as anchored in the landscape with clean, simple, elegant lines. This school of architects was aligned with the Romantic movement, which celebrated emotion and individualism over the Industrial Revolution’s stern dictates of logic and rationality. Romantics sought a connection to nature and pushed back against growing urbanization by seeking expressions of “simpler medieval times.”

In our backyard, the earliest Regency houses borrowed from the Georgian its five-bay facade (a centred entry door with two windows set to either side), but the footprint was roughly square rather than rectangular. This was capped with a hip roof and tall, proportionally massive chimneys.

To accentuate connection to the landscape, the home was set only one or two steps above grade while the horizontal lines were emphasized with strong drip moulds above each window and, occasionally, brickwork banding on the chimneys. The main entry was pronounced, often including a surround with sidelights and simplified classically inspired pilasters that rose to a tall, unadorned entablature.

Somewhat common in Niagara-on-the-Lake, the circa 1817 Regency cottage shown here was moved from Mississauga Street in the late 20th century and set on a much taller foundation at its new location. Still, it remains a stellar example of early Regency design.